Environmental Warnings From Native American Elders

smallcisa-cd-release-background.jpgLast week, I had the honor of listening to When the ancestors whisper…Stories From Native California, produced by my friend Neil Harvey of the Bioneers for the California Indian Storytelling Association (CISA). Sitting in my neighbor’s rustic log cabin sipping local wine, the elders’ voices reached my soul and I lamented for the lack of oral history within my own culture. When the ancestors whisper… features Native American storytellers Darryl “Babe” Wilson (Itam Is/Aw’te), Georgiana Sanchez (Chumash/O’odham) and Ernest Siva (Cahuilla/Serrano) coming from the California forests, deserts, and sea. One story, in particular, I felt carried wisdom for the environmental movement and the future of our planet.

Told by Darryl “Babe” Wilson, “Two Moons” is a “warning” story of what might happen to the Earth if we don’t heal the “sickness” of our planet. “Jui ja wa. The old people would say jui ja wa. Jui ja wa, that means the Earth is sick.” Darryl was born on the north side of Sul’ma’ejote (Fall River) at its confluence with It’ajuma (Pit River), which is east of Mt. Shasta. He has doctorate in English and the author of The Morning the Sun Went Down, a honest autobiography about what it is like to grow up Native American in rural California. Based on the recommendation of a Modoc colleague, I read this book over seven years ago, but the story has remained in my heart as if I read it yesterday.

Darryl “Babe” Wilson tells the story of “Two Moons” on When the ancestors whisper… , about how the Moon became a moon. According to the old timers, the Moon used to be like the Earth, with trees, deer, birds, and salmon.

But there was the moon, it was like this Earth at one time. Then two thinkings came: they called thought thinking. Two thinkings came. One thinking nobody knows where the thinking came from, but one thinking said, This is mine; this Earth is mine. That was an Earth at that time. This Earth is mine and I’m going to use it the way I want to use it. The other thinking said, No, you don’t have any right to do that; there’s generations of children coming; we have a responsibility to save this for them so they’ll have a chance to live and be happy too. So those two thinkings got into a big argument, and their big argument turned into a war.

The side that wanted to use the Moon’s resources up started attacking the side that wanted to defend the Moon. The people defending the Moon had to use up all of their resources in defense, and the other side used up all of their resources on the offense. Soon, the Moon caught fire, and there was no water left to put it out. The Moon became a moon.

For me, this story foreshadows what could happen to Earth. One side staunchly supports using resources and ignores the facts regarding climate change. The other side is frantically defending the Earth, but will it be enough? Will the Earth become another moon?

And this world, in my lifetime, I can look and see there are two thoughts, that’s the private possession, human rights above everything else ownership, which translates into the right to abuse ownership. So there’s that thinking there. It’s been there ever since America started on this continent. The thinking is just right there. It’s big and huge and ugly, but there are also more people in my lifetime who said, Wait, we’ve got to be careful with this world.

We’ve got to solve the problem before the “war” erupts on Earth. We’ve got to think of the Earth as our mother and heed the wisdom of the Native American elders. We’ve got to stop “taking and taking and taking” and be responsible for our planet’s health. We’ve got to help Earth sing its beautiful song again!

Image courtesy of California Indian Storytelling Association.

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  1. Interesting. Many religions have good grounds for environmental ethics, and American-Indian wisdom gives special wight to Mother Earth attitudes. I find it quite sad that so many adherents of the three abrahamic religions do not pay any or enough attention to their spiritual basis for environmental thinking. And there is one indeed, in the OT, NT and Quran alike.

  2. Darryl Babe Wilson sent me the following information in an email. With his permission, I wanted to share it with our readers.

    The very ancient wise man who told me that story called for me during a full moon. So as he talked in broken English and my mother’s native language, he often pointed to the moon showing its scars from that war. It was a very sobering experience. I am just happy that Neil, the Bioneers and you came into my life. Now it feels like there is a definite audience for this type of information. For far too long the native voice melted like snow and blew away in the wind. This story is what the old ones called a “warnings.”
    They very often used “thinkings” for thought. There are three languages in my homeland, and they all develop off of the verb instead of the subject. Instead of “Jennifer ran,” it would be “running Jennifer.” Often I heard “going he went and went and went.” This referred to a long journey, sometimes clear around the world, or to the moon. The universe is very intimate to my Elders. Many stars have names and moon often speaks with weasel, fox and frog, in some of the origin legends. Sometimes I slip back into this verb-oriented-sentence structure.
    Thanks, Sul’ma’ejote/Darryl Babe Wilson

  3. You know that most Natives have a history of telling lies to outsiders right? I am NA and I could tell you 100 stories that have nothing to do with our culture at all, We have no interest in helping you document our traditional lore. We will interject “faux tradition” where ever possible.

    Why do white people think we will tell them everything we know?…You just do what you do best….and when you have used up your existence….we will still be here.

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